Jason digs coal

Written by Brenda Schimke

He keeps doing it over and over again and he’s unapologetic.

Jason Kenney, billed as the man of the people, is either afraid to consult with stakeholders and regular Albertans or he is so arrogant that he believes only he knows what’s best for Alberta. 

Rumours have been coming out of the Legislative Assembly since his election suggesting a micro-manager who controls everything, leaves little room for his cabinet ministers to think for themselves and hides behind tweets, Facebook Q&As and conference calls where media aren’t allowed follow-up questions.

His departmental leaders said public consultation is imperative before removing or closing 175 provincial parks from the park system. He did it anyway. 

Kenney is now holding an auction to sell oil and gas natural rights in the Milk River Natural Area, a protected zone where the majority of Alberta’s native grasslands (prairie wool) grows. Energy department officials implored Kenney to seek public consultation before opening the Rockies to coal mining, yet he didn’t.

It’s hard to fathom that in 2021, we have a government who thinks open-pit coal mines on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains is a good idea. 

Not just because it threatens Alberta’s iconic gem, the Rocky Mountains, but if Kenney is so bent on selling coal, there are shuttered coal mines throughout the province that could be mined instead. 

The big advantage of coal mines on the prairies is that they are easily and successfully reclaimed back into productive lands.

In 2016, Kenney’s Facebook page proudly proclaimed “Jason Digs Coal” and cursed environmental professional activists as the enemy. I’d suggest it wasn’t only activists, many regular Albertans believe in climate warming and saw the elimination of coal-burning power plants as a good thing. But that is a topic for another day.

While we were fighting COVID-19 and financial survival, Kenney was busy passing 50 pieces of legislation and quietly changing multiple policies and regulations. His decision to rescind the coal policy on the eastern slopes, in place since 1976, and re-open water allocation agreements in the area was done in May.

Previously there were two provisions. No development could take place on the most sensitive land of the eastern slopes, and a formula put restrictions around the amount of industrial activity versus the environmental value of the land. 

Kenney unilaterally wiped out the second provision and in early November sold coal leases for 2,000 hectares on the eastern slopes.

First Nations, ranchers, hunters, anglers, tourist operators, environmentalists and the majority of Albertans are furious, and lawsuits are starting to pile up. All because ‘it’s Kenney’s way or the highway’.

His minions are racing to defend the indefensible. An Alberta Environment spokesperson declared no development will occur in the parks—spouting provision number one and ignoring the significance of the recently discontinued provision number two.

If Kenney’s coal plans for the eastern slopes are allowed to proceed, favourite spots such as Oldman North provincial recreation area, Livingstone Falls, Honeymoon Creek, Dutch Creek and Racehorse will be encircled by a series of open pit coal mines and industrial infrastructure.

Then there’s the real danger of toxic chemicals eventually seeping into the Oldman watershed which provides water to millions of people downstream.

The moral of the story—political leaders who make substantive policy changes in secret, silence their caucus, deny public consultation and hide from the press are not serving their constituents.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.